Speeches given by Turkey’s former President Abullah Gul and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a communal fast-breaking ceremony for Ramadan (Iftar) highlighted increasing division in the AK party.
At the Iftar attended by President Erdogan and former President Abdullah Gul, both co-founders of the Justice and Develop Party (AKP), Gul was the first to address the event on Saturday evening, when he called for a review of Turkish foreign policy regarding the Middle East and Arab world.
“It is a pity that Islamic countries consume themselves while the Palestinian issue remains unsolved in the Middle East. In this regard, Turkey should help these countries. In order to do this, undoubtedly we should improve our relations with all,” Gul said.
Turkey needed revise its foreign policies in order to improve its relations with countries including Libya, Egypt, Yemen and all the Gulf countries and be an inspiration for them as it was in the past, Gul, who is also a former foreign minister said. “To be honest, I think it would be useful to revise our policies with regards to the Middle East and the Arab world with a more realistic approach,” he said.
According to Turkish daily ‘Zaman’ President Erdogan, who was prime minister for 12 years prior to his election to the presidency last August, had been the main driving force for Turkish foreign policy, often making statements that contradicted his Foreign Ministry’s policies.
The report goes on to say that the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy PM Ahmet Davutoglu coined the phrase, “zero problems with the neighbours”, meanwhile Turkey’s relationships with its neighbours had deteriorated one by one.
Another founding members of the AKP, Nurettin Aktas, told ‘Zaman’ there is nothing offensive in Gul’s remarks concerning Turkey’s foreign policy. “There is almost no country in the huge Islamic world that has not been hit by conflicts. As the most important country in the region, Turkey has become isolated and is wasting its energy on ‘parallel state’ scenarios. … Mr. Gul’s remarks are not a personal criticism. He says the fire in our neighbour’s backyard will burn us as well,” Aktas said.
The “parallel state” or structure is a phrase coined by Erdogan to refer to the faith-based Gulen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, following the eruption of a graft scandal in 2013 that implicated Erdogan’s inner circle.
However, Aktas, a former AK Party deputy, said Gul should have made his views known when he was president and prevented the negative developments in Turkish foreign policy.
Gul has been criticised by many for failing to speak up when he was president against the unlawful and anti-democratic practices pressed ahead by Erdogan and his AK Party government.
In his speech on Saturday night, although Gul praised the developments in Turkey’s democracy and economy over the past decade, he said there is much more to be done. He added that although the national income per capita in Turkey is $10,000, it is over $30,000 in Greece, which is currently in financial crisis, a situation which, he said, shows that much more work is required.
In response, President Erdogan said that in the course of his 40 years of political life, he had never tired of service to the nation and had acted according to the expectations of the people. He also denied shaking the public’s confidence. He went on to say that:
“However, there were certainly some who betrayed, who were overwhelmed by their ambitions, who were afraid, who became victims of their egos and who fell short of breath. We left them in their place and continued our way.”
Erdogan’s remarks were interpreted as an apparent swipe at Gul because it was Erdogan himself who prevented Gul’s return to the AK Party. After he was elected president, Erdogan continued to lead the AK Party for some time, calling for a general party congress to elect Davutoglu as the party’s new leader. Erdogan’s move to determine the new party leader before leaving the AK Party, despite the fact that the president is expected to remain impartial according to the Constitution, was interpreted at the time as a manoeuvre to prevent Gul from returning to the AK Party as its new leader.
In his speech, Erdogan also said his political allies “are not people who came together for personal interests or by coincidence.”
Aktas said it is unacceptable for Erdogan to insult Gul, his political ally for many years, in such a manner.
In an open response to Gul’s comparison of Turkey and Greece with regards to their national income per capita, Erdogan said although he took over the government with a debt of $23.5 billion with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2002, this amount was fully repaid and Turkey has become a country that is able to hand out loans to the IMF. “These things do not happen by saying empty words and making empty references,” Erdogan said.
Former senior AK Party official Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat, who is currently a member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said it is unlike Gul to openly remonstrate with Erdogan for his mistakes, which shows that the split in the party can no longer be kept secret.
In a comparison between Erdogan and Gul’s speeches, Firat said: “While there are concerns about the country, morality and logic in Gul’s speech, there is arrogance and pride in Erdogan’s speech. … Erdogan left all his former companions behind. The most concrete example is him preventing Gul from returning to the party.”
Ozer Sencar, head of MetroPOLL, polling organisation, the long-held tension between Gul and Erdogan had come to the surface on Saturday. “Gul was known not to voice his criticism of Erdogan and his policies in public. He knows better than anyone else that Erdogan, who has no tolerance for criticism, would give a harsh response to his remarks on the issues he raised concerning the developments in Turkish foreign policy and the Middle East. Gul’s speech signals that he will use a more critical language [against Erdogan] from now on,” he commented.
Edited from Zaman